The record left behind by an Irish brickmaker living in Salt Lake City provides a unique insight into the life (and strange death) of one of Utah’s immigrants.
A little more than 112 years ago, an Irish immigrant named James Farrell was found dead in his home at the corner of Ninth West and Third South in Salt Lake. A brickmaker by trade, Farrell was a relative newcomer to Utah, having moved to Salt Lake from Omaha only six or seven years before. Before that he had lived in Chicago where he became a US citizen in 1884. He lived alone, but he appears to have made friends with some of the children in his neighborhood. It was one of those children that found his lifeless body and called for a doctor.
Workers and immigrants from the 19th century—people like James Farrell—are notoriously hard to track in historical sources, in part because they tended to leave relatively few personal records behind for historians to use. Farrell, however, is unique. He owned his house and the property it stood on. More amazing still, he left 1500 dollars in a bank account and a 120 dollar insurance policy when he died, astronomical sums when one considers that in 1896 the average hourly wage in the manufacturing sector was less than 20 cents. The result of Farrell’s good fortune when he was alive led to a knock-down, drag-out conflict over who would be the administrator of his estate. The insurance company petitioned to have its representative named as executor, a request that was met with a counterpetition by a woman named Ann Cummings who claimed to be the dead man’s cousin. Alleging that Cummings was nothing more than an impostor, the insurance company finally won out, but not before the Farrell estate case dragged out over several months. In the end, James Farrell, a modest immigrant brickmaker, had posthumously captured the Salt Lake headlines with his paradoxical fortune.
Image: Building a Brick Structure, c. 1900. Bricklayers were fairly common laborers, however they left behind very little in the historical record. James Farrell is unique in this regard, because of the fortune he left behind. Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
See news reports about Farrell in the following 1896 editions of the Salt Lake Tribune: February 10, February 12, February 18, March 22, and April 29. Also see the February 15, 1896, edition of the Deseret News.